Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 62: Not Goodbye

Course: Bethesda, MD to Washington D.C.
Distance: 10 miles
Terrain: Irrelevant
Conditions: 90% chance of men crying like boys.

Today was the day. The be-all and end-all. The big kahuna. Everything came down to this. Every pedal stroke, every heft in our lungs, every drop of sweat, every ache, every pain, every tear - it all came down to this. It's funny because deep down no one even wanted it. 

I woke up and rolled up my air mattress thinking, "Boy am I not going to miss this." I continued to nostalgically get my things together as I looked around at the guys in the room with me. We were noticeably not the same men as we were the day that we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone had cleaned their bikes, taken water bottle cages off, and prepped their new jerseys for arrival. Busting everything out at once made us feel pretty cool. 

It was an overcast day again. Slight winds hit my face as I broke open the doors of lodging. I regretted taking every step as I didn't want it to end. The team gathered in the parking lot to circle up for the last time of the summer. Holding the hands of the guys next to me for prayer put a lump in my throat. We kept our congratulations to a minimum. It was sort of everyone's way of prolonging the goodbyes. 10 miles was a piece of cake, so we did it together.

Michael, Derek, and I rode together. We started together and wanted to end that way. The next 10 miles were the strangest I've ever ridden. For the first five miles, no one said a thing. Not a single warning call for a stick in the road, not a single joke nor random question. We were truly soaking in our final moments together. Eventually we caught up to the inevitable peloton that was going at a whopping 5 mph. When we did, spirits picked up and everyone started cracking jokes left and right. Every inside joke that had already been run into the ground was instantaneously fair game and hilarious. We rode as one peloton until stage up, where we met up with Trans and South routes. 

North didn't have much interest in socializing, so a lot of us walked to Starbucks for coffee since we had about an hour of downtime. By the time everyone had their coffee and had eaten their pastries, we headed back to stage up. It came time to form the double pace line and everyone reluctantly shuffled their feet over to the line. Earlier Jeff had asked me to ride in with him, and I couldn't have been more honored to ride next to anyone up to the Capitol. We departed, riding through the city streets of D.C. We could see the Washington Monument to our right slowly pass by. The Capitol wasn't in sight though. We kept pedaling until we came to our first turn. We rounded the corner, and there it sat. Peering down at us like it had been waiting for years was the Capitol. Suddenly, you could hear a pin drop. I can't describe the feeling very well, but all I can say is that it's like the ultimate, "Woah.." moment. That's when it hit everyone - we've made it. 

We rode up to the lawn and dismounted. Friends, family, crying mothers, and the like were all there screaming and waving. It was surreal. I had held in my tears until I reached the foot of the lawn and looked up at the top of the Capitol. I actually just did what I think I did. Then I couldn't help it anymore. Tears were streaming down my face. I kept my face turned though, and went to put my bike down. Chad Coltrane spoke and the team did one last cheer together. It was all a blur though. Before I knew it, I was lifting my bike above my head in celebration of the summer of a lifetime. There will never be a greater feeling than that. In that moment I could see the faces of the people that had touched my life throughout the Journey - all smiling as they had my back. Every memory was flashing before my eyes. The tears that had previously subsided were back for round 2. 

We finally said our goodbyes and headed over to the hotel. Later that night we had our closing ceremonies and did one last Every Time We Touch dance to close them out. When the festivities were over, a handful of us walked to the Lincoln Memorial and just sat on the steps looking back at the Capitol building. The question, "What's it going to feel like when you come back to the Capitol lawn in 50 years?" was posed. No one knew the true answer. All anyone could mutter is, "Awesome." We walked back together and said our final goodbyes. It was tough, but we all knew it wasn't goodbye.

I guess that's the story of JOH. Your job is to touch lives. Maybe not change them, but definitely to touch them. You touch them then you move on to do it again. The reward is something intangible. Those who have done it can never explain, and those who haven't will never understand. 

People often thank us for "sacrificing" our summers for a great cause. The truth is, though, that we don't sacrifice much at all. Maybe some sweat, and a little bit of comfort, but nothing else. I'd take a hard floor with my teammates over the comfort of a plush bed any night. I'd take the heat and sweat over the simplicity of laziness. I'd take cold showers, mediocre cleanliness and running around half-naked over a a great night's sleep after a warm shower and a round of video games. This Journey will stick with me for the rest of my life. I'll never forget the people and places I've seen.

The only disability in life is a bad attitude. 

Day 61: That's a PR

Course: Hagerstown, MD to Bethesda, MD
Distance: 70 miles
Terrain: Rolling hills
Conditions: Road hazards

Today was supposed to be the easiest day of them all. I was riding with Reggie and Derek. There were about 5 pace lines that had all agreed to just saunter through the miles and soak it in together. We would stop to get fast food and sit and eat it on a patch of grass and just talk to each other.

None of that happened. My pace line may as well have been the sweeps for the day. The actual sweeps also may as well have been in our pace line. Everything went awry within the first 30 miles. First, I got a front flat. It was my third of the trip and I hadn’t had a flat since Grand Island, Nebraska. 5 miles later I got a back flat. I hadn’t had a single flat off of my back tire thus far. Shortly after that Derek got a flat. 10 miles later Reggie got a flat. Then, Derek got another flat. About 5 miles later I got my third flat of the day. That’s 6 flats in 30 miles. We were at least 20 miles apart from the next pace line. All of my flats were due to shards of glass in the tires. I got three flats in 30 miles when before I only had two in 3800 miles. Personal record broken. The rest of the day we played catch-up.

We were sprinting at about 22-23mph for about 20 miles and never saw another pace line. We missed rack point but were still allowed to continue. It stinks to not have had the day that I expected, but I sure did make it memorable. At least, my tires did.

We’re currently staying at a super nice high school. We’re lodging in a wrestling room and after about 20 minutes of napping people began to wake up and have a giant free-for-all wrestlemania. Everything is padded so people went nuts. Guys were getting body slammed and full nelsoned and all. Once we settled down and showered we went to an all-team dinner with the other two routes and the Build America team.  We had some great BBQ and tried to chat it up with the other teams…..tried.

Tomorrow is the last day of this journey. It’s hard to believe that it’s here already. Cycling has sort of become my “job” and to think that I only have 10 miles left is crazy. I’m psyched for the arrival, but I never want to leave the guys I’ve befriended here. 

Day 60: Into the Fog

Course: Cumberland, MD to Hagerstown, MD
Distance: 65 miles
Terrain: Hills
Conditions: Wet roads, fog
Max Climbing Distance: 5600 ft
Max Speed: 48.7 mph

Today I swept with Luke and Jeff. Any other day we would have killed the ride since we’re all really strong riders. However at this point most of us have vowed to just take it easy and soak in our last rides. That’s exactly what we did today.

We started with a climb right away – a big one at that. When we got to the top we were surrounded by fog. You couldn’t see 300 yards down the road. As dangerous as it sounds, it was so cool. We stopped behind the other pace lines in front of us and filled up water bottles. We just sat and watched pace lines take off for about 5 minutes. They would go around the van and begin their descent by entering the fog. We saw them for about 3 seconds before they just disappeared in it. When it was our turn we took it pretty slowly since we didn’t want to die two days before DC arrival. We eventually poked out of it and finished our ride pretty smoothly.

When we got to lodging, an NBC news reporter asked us to do a couple rounds of pretending like we were riding in so that he could get a video shot of it. They must really know who I am now since they’ve been following me since San Francisco. That’s right, I’m halfway to stardom.

Our dinner was coupled with our last friendship visit of the summer. It was tough to acknowledge, but we all made the most of it. When it came time for it to begin, we walked across the parking lot of lodging to wheel over the clients. They all had severe disabilities, and almost all of them didn’t talk. I took care of Linda. Her disability was pretty severe so I wasn’t able to talk to her. However, I did get to feed her, and I’m pretty sure I got a smile out of her a few times. Everyone did so well with the clients and we all had a blast.

Directly above ^ : After coming out of the fog, a lot of people were bunched up so we rode as a peloton for about 50 miles.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Day 59: Flirting With 50

Course: Uniontown, PA to Cumberland, MD
Distance: 70 miles
Terrain: Steep hills
Conditions: Humidity
Max Climbing Distance: 7000 ft.
Max Speed: 49.2 mph

Today was the last of the “big” days of the trip. Every since we finished Kirkwood people would talk about “that one climbing day towards the end.” I decided to ride with Michael Walton and Stephen Blythe. Whenever we ride together we call our "team" pace line the Pine Trees. Don’t ask why, because I couldn’t even tell you. We started out as the last pace line but worked hard all day. The hills were difficult, but nothing we couldn’t handle. It was awesome to know that we had come so far. 8% grade hills felt like 6% most times. My only goal since leaving Kirkwood has been to break 50 mph. A lot of people share that goal with me. My previous record for speed was 48.5 mph that very day. Since then we really haven’t had the hills to reach it.

We climbed for what seemed to be hours, and eventually got to our first summit. We descended and I gained speed as quickly as possible. I went into a tuck position and was feeling it. I knew I could do this. When the hill bottomed out and I checked my speedometer, it read 49.2 as my max speed. Frustrating, yes, but I knew that I would have more chances. Every mountain pass that we scaled ended up with the same answers. 48.7…48.6….49…..48….it was ridiculous. The day ended in vain as I never broke 50, but I danced all around it. I was still satisfied knowing that I have come so far in my ability to quickly go up AND down hills.

The Pine Trees finished as the 3rd pace line and it felt great to know that the rest of the trip would be easier.

Later that night we went to dinner with the Cumberland Rotary Club and had amazing burgers, hot dogs, and fried ice cream. The people there were a lot of fun to talk to and very interested in what we were doing. They held us in a pretty high regard. I’m going to miss feeling famous.

When we got back to lodging we had a gag gift exchange. A lot of guys got some hilarious presents. I gave Colin an autographed (and framed) picture of myself with an inspirational message. Since I’m kind of known as the guy with little emotion, I was given a shirt that says “I had fun once…….it was awful.” 

Above ^ : Some of the scenery

Above ^: Passing the Mason-Dixon Line

Above ^ : Horned Frogs at the border

Above^: Pine Trees at the border.

Day 58: I'm On a Boat

Course: Pittsburgh, PA to Uniontown, PA
Distance: 50 miles
Terrain: Hills
Conditions: Low shoulders
Total climbing distance: ~3000 ft.
Max Speed: 42.2 mph

We started out the day with a sponsored Chick-fil-A breakfast. People have been raving about wanting Chick-fil-A for weeks, so the chance to overload on chicken sandwiches for breakfast was a great start. I rode with Jack and Austin. It was sort of our “goodbye” ride for each other since we had ridden together a lot early on. We took it pretty easy despite the many hills; we were just trying to enjoy our surroundings and have fun talking to each other. The ride went well and we finished at a local YMCA.

After everyone arrived and we got our stuff together, we ate lunch and then headed out to go white water rafting. It was set up by a Pi Alpha from last year’s North route that works with the rafting company. I was in a boat with Colin, Austin, Jack, Jeff, and Saurabh. We called ourselves the Trail Blazers since we would always try to take the paths that no one else would. We ended up being the only raft to ace every intense rapid without tipping or sending at least one person overboard. I think I found my new calling. The only bad part about the rafting trip was that a lot of us (including me) didn’t have shoes. When we had to unload the rafts we carried them up a giant gravel path, and it was painstaking to say the least.

The team had dinner at a Uniontown Knights of Columbus facility. They fed us pasta and meatballs – a fan favorite. We played volleyball, horseshoes, and cornhole. Volleyball was a huge hit since we never actually get to play. For some reason volleyballs always show up at our outdoor dinners, but the nets never do. There were just enough guys to do a 6v6 match, and we did a best of 3 tournament. The team that I was on won in the third game. No big deal, it was a tight match. I coached from the court, which was a pretty tough job. I suppose you could say I put the team on my shoulders. This is going to sound ridiculous, but after I made a really bad play I instinctively ripped some grass off of the ground and shoved it in my mouth. I guess it was a self-punishment kind of thing, but I’m still tasting dirt every once in a while. Just a heads up, if you ever feel the urge to put the earth into your mouth, don’t do it.

Day 57: The Next Beyoncé

 Course: Day off in Pittsburgh!

We woke up and headed downstairs out of the hotel for a sponsored breakfast on the patio. We had everything from croissants to egg casserole to coffee and pastries. It was amazing to have a feast at breakfast for once instead of dinner. We then walked as a team over to our friendship visit with the UCP – United Cerebral Palsy. I remember turning the corner and looking through the window to see a ton of people in one room in wheel chairs. I didn’t really know what to expect this time around. We went inside and were instantly submerged into that very room. I thought to myself that I didn’t have many friendship visits left, so what if I were able to just make one visit the most meaningful for at least one person.

This was my visit.

I went to an empty table and began talking to a client there. Here name was Allie and like the other clients there she had Cerebral Palsy. I began pulling every card I had in the conversation book. Every topic, every joke, everything. I wasn’t letting this one go. Allie liked to sing and play Wii singing games. I told her she was the next Beyoncé and she smiled wider than I’ve ever seen. Throughout our time together we made each other laugh relentlessly. She had a huge crush on one of the caretakers there, so I kept threatening to call him over. Every time I said anything like, “Oooooooh there goes Brian!” she would blush and tell me not to say anything too loudly. When it came time for dinner Allie asked me to feed her and I gladly obliged. Feeding her was a pretty humbling experience since she was older than me. It was tough to say goodbye, but before I left she reminded me that she would remember me. I can’t wait to send someone back next year to see how she’s doing.

We went to dinner at the Woodlands Camp for teens with developmental disabilities. They go there to learn how they can become more independent since a lot of them are losing any funding that they’ve been receiving. A few of our cyclists volunteered to give inspirational speeches in front of the camp. It was great to hear guys talk about how they’ve overcome difficulties this summer.

Day 56: The Mighty Mighty Peloton

Course: Niles, OH to Pittsburgh, PA
Terrain: Hills
Conditions: Humidity

Today I rode with Matt and Saurabh (SAR-ubb). I was feeling pretty good out of the gate, but we had some trouble early on. Saurabh kept having bike troubles, so we fell back to about fifth pace line. We kept cooking though, and eventually made our way to third. We joined up with the second pace line, and were riding pretty close to them for a while. Soon our two pace lines caught up with the first pace line, and before we knew it we were essentially a peloton. A car behind us wouldn’t dare pass us, and a truck in front of us was going relatively slowly, so we were pretty much boxed in. We couldn’t ride single file since the cars were so close, so some of us were forced to take the lane. We stayed in peloton formation for about 3 miles until we were able to split up a bit. After all, if a crew van saw us we’d probably be racked on account of the terrible moods the crew has been in lately. That and because peloton formation is way against the policies and procedures.

We all got red flagged at the next stop since there were about 27 turns for the crew to mark. There, we decided to try a six-man pace line out of the gate. My pace line left first, and we slowed a bit to wait for the second pace line. When they finally caught up, we made one giant pace line and began rocketing down the road at a steady 25-30 mph, depending on who was pulling. There was so much time to rest that a one mile pull was nothing. If you were sitting in the back, you could hardly pedal but still draft and remain at the speed of the person in front. We did that for about 12 miles until we hit hills and separated. My pace line wanted to finish first pretty badly since we all hadn’t in a while, so we pushed ourselves pretty hard and came out on top in front of some pretty good riders.

After the ride, we staged up and did an arrival at the Three Rivers Association for people with developmental disabilities. It finds ways to keep them active. Build America was there so we got to see those guys again. They’re goofy, but all pretty nice.

Later that night we went to a pretty cool bowling alley to just have fun with the team itself. It wasn’t a friendship visit, so guys got pretty competitive. The alley was really cool, too. It was sort of old-timey and the balls were returned above ground. That’s something I’ve never seen before, so if you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s not that ‘old-timey’….” then I’m sorry.